Former charges respect Iron Mike

SETH MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

If Mike Keenan harbours any ill will toward the Florida Panthers, he's keeping it bottled up.

When it comes to his former players, he doesn't have to hide any feelings.

"I wish them nothing but the best. Those are good young players," the new Flames head coach said yesterday before his former team landed in Calgary to face his new one tonight at the Saddledome. "You have some kind of relationship with them, you also have some history with them, so you hope they do well."

Despite his Iron Mike reputation as a hardass, the common theme in comments from his former pupils varies little.

He may be a tough coach to play for, but, in hindsight, it's even more difficult to find fault with his methods according to some of the current Panthers.

"He pushes young guys. I knew that coming in," said Panthers centre Stephen Weiss. "But he made me better. Made me grow a thick skin that I didn't have before.

"There's days when it's not fun. There's practices when he's on you. But that's all part of the job, that's part of being a professional. If I were to see him, I'd shake his hand and thank him, thank him for pushing me."

Olli Jokinen credits Keenan with helping him become a better player and leader.

"He demands a lot. He was really good for my career. There were some days you were thinking 'What the (hell) is going on?' But at the end of the day, what he did was good for me, which was push me. He tests guys. Some are able to handle that and some are not.

"Sometimes you think it's not fair if the coach gives you a hard time. But there's a lot of our guys now, if they look back, being a little older, a lot of things he said turned out to be pretty fair. When you're younger, things look different."

Defenceman Mike Van Ryn always appreciated Keenan's honesty and sees the Flames job as a fit for his former boss.

"I liked him. He was a straight shooter. You always know where you stand," Van Ryn said. "He'll be good for them."


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